Searching for beautiful or unusual sea life and shells along the coastline is a wonderfully relaxing hobby.
Words and photographs by Judy Bryant
The colours, shapes, patterns and encrustations are superb examples of art to be admired and appreciated. There’s the flash of insight when a living creature (which becomes a dead sea shell) is recognised from an old guide-book, and a sense of community with other appreciators of natural beauty.
Haga Haga, some 70 km north of East London, and its surrounding beaches, is a popular area for people who love shells and other marine life. While the village and its surroundings have sadly not escaped the impact of pollution and over-harvesting, its rock pools and coastline still offer abundant treasures.
Marion Meyer is a local resident who has completed a marine biology course and adores capturing the sea’s abundance with her trusty waterproof camera. Marion attributes the relatively abundant shells to the area’s geographical location, rocky shores and pools, relative isolation and thriving sea life.
“I find the whole picture interesting ‒ not just the dried-out animal we call a shell,” she says. “Thankfully, more people like tanning on the beach than walking around on the rocks and searching for precious shells.
“People forget, or don’t know, what the life span of a sea creature is and how long it takes for them to reach sexual maturity. Because of this, if you remove too many, there are not enough left to reproduce, or the distances are too far apart. Cockle shells are a good example. They take up to eight years to reach sexual maturity.”
Mussels only reproduce with the spring equinox when the day and night length are the same, in August-September, she says. This is when they are their largest. It’s the same time for abalone spawn: Take too many of them out and then there are too few to reproduce successfully. And of course, the more people who collect shells, especially rare ones, the fewer there are to pick up.
“Genuine shell collectors want the coast to be preserved. They protect resources, possibly taking one or two examples, and swapping with other genuine collectors.”
Where to admire shells: The Little Museum at Haga Haga has examples of shells to be found in the area. Ardent collector Hazel Jefferies donated her extensive collection to the nearby town of Kei Mouth many years ago, and it can be viewed in the municipal offices. The East London Museum also has an extensive collection (319 Oxford St, East London).